Hannah Tolson can’t sleep. It’s 5:30 am on August 5, the morning after Psicobloc Masters 2018, and she’s in the lobby of the Best Western Plus. Her knees are curled to her chest, her phone hangs loosely in her hands and a smile stretches her face as wide as it can go. Most athletes can’t sleep the night before a competition, especially one that hucks its competitors off of a 55-foot overhanging wall into a pool of water. But Hannah has already made the leap—six times, in fact—and has won her first Psicobloc Masters. And now she’s just too psyched to sleep.
On August 3 and 4, The North Face presented the sixth annual Psicobloc Masters, a deep-water-soloing competition held in Park City, Utah. The competition consisted of three stages: a qualification round, a seeding round and a single-elimination final round. In total, twelve women and sixteen men competed for a dip into the $20,000 cash purse.
The qualification round was open to anyone with the $100 registration fee and the audacity to head up the wall. Qualifiers began at 11 am on August 3 and Sami Singleton, a local 16-year-old climber, gracefully topped out twice, logging the fastest female time. Back on solid ground, a jittery Singleton wrapped herself in a towel and smiled up at the wall. “I’ve been to watch the competition before but I told myself I’d never do it,” she said. “I decided a couple days ago to try.” Singleton, along with Maddy Morris, Michelle Abshire and Katie Myers, moved through qualifiers.
Joey Catama, a Southern California resident, topped out the men’s qualifying route in a lightning 42 seconds. “It’s my favorite competition of the year,” said 18-year-old Catama, who started competing in 2015 at youth sport nationals and made his debut Psico appearance last year. Catama, Devin Hammonds, Sean Faulkner, Eric Jerome, Nikolaus Karolides and Garrett McClellan moved out of men’s qualifiers and into the seeding round the next day.
To balance out the bracketing in the single-elimination round the top four seeded women—Delaney Miller, Nina Williams, and Zoe Steinberg, Hannah Tolson—automatically advanced to quarter-finals.
A round of four face-offs determined the other four that competed in quarter-finals. Melise Edwards beat Emily Harrington up the wall, pitting her against Hannah Tolson. Sami Singleton secured herself a spot against Nina Williams, Michelle Abshire moved on against Delaney Miller, and Maddy Morris would face Zoe Steinberg.
In one of the most exciting races of the afternoon, newcomer Singleton out-kicked crowd-favorite Nina Williams, moving Singleton on to semi-finals where she climbed into a third-place finish against Hannah Tolson.
In the final race, Hannah Tolson topped out just two moves above Delaney Miller. On the podium, the three women stood exhilarated, exhausted and relieved: Tolson on top, Miller in second and Singleton in third.
Between the men and women’s rounds a crane jostled around the legendary setting team of Steven Jefferey, Dani Andrada and their self-proclaimed “intern” Lauren Reynolds. They pulled multi-colored grips off the wall to make room for bigger moves, including a dyno at about 25 feet up.
As a high-speed, high-stakes event, Psicobloc is one of the most spectator-friendly climbing competitions out there. As the sun dropped and BAC rose, the crowd is primed for a show. And the diverse men’s field delivered just that.
After a competitive seeding round with nine top-outs (and nearly as many leaps from the lip), the men were ready to go for broke. Or not-so-broke. Three-time champ Jimmy Webb cooly out-climbed Dru Mack and Joey Catama beat Devin Hammonds for a chance to race Jimmy in quarter-finals.
Chilean climber Lucas Gaona, part of the international showing this year, out-climbed qualifier Nikolas Karolides to face Carlo Traversi in quarter-finals. Traversi appeared at four of the past five Psicobloc Masters, experience that kicked him ahead of first-timer Keenan Takahashi, whose hustle led to a wild downward ride from just a couple feet below the lip.
Matty Hong, another Psico vet, moved into quarters against Facundo Langbehn, and Arjan De Kock was set to face the Brazilian Felipe Camargo.
Moving into semi-finals, Webb and Traversi—who have competed in four Psicobloc Masters each but have never faced one other in single elimination—were wired to go. Both Webb and Traversi had their sequences dialed and executed them nearly perfectly, with Webb topping out just a couple seconds ahead of Traversi.
The similarly experienced Matty Hong jumped on the wall ready to outpace Arjan De Kock, who had just decided to compete a couple of days prior. Both were quick to snap into action, and both topped out, but Hong kept a steadily faster pace than De Kock.
Hong took his chance to dethrone Webb seriously, but Webb wasn’t having it. Webb glided up like he’d been on the route 100 times before (it had been five times that day) and took first for the fourth time. Jimmy Webb finished in first, Matty Hong in second and Carlo Traversi in third.
Climbing 5.13 multiple times, with little break, as fast as you can, with an impending 55-foot fall is a lot to ask of the climber’s body and mind. Behind the wall, Nina Williams walks away with a wrapped knee and Sami Singleton ices her ribs. But the effect that such a competition has on the mind almost always overwhelms what has happened to the body. “I really like the opportunity to deal with my fears,” Miller says. “I like challenging myself to focus on the climb despite my fears regarding the fall.” Some back away from the competition for good. Others leave even more motivated to come back again next year. And a skillful, lucky few stay up all night thinking about it.